Monday 22 November 2004

A tale of two cities

Sydney and Melbourne; Toronto and Montreal; Liverpool and Manchester. City rivalry is a common phenomenon and we certainly have our share of it here in Scotland.

Glasgow and Edinburgh are very different cities that all too often find it difficult to cooperate. There's endless discussion about airport policy, improving the rail linkages and getting together on joint economic development.

And the rivalry can be more personal. I recall the story of the Glaswegian actor who was filming in Edinburgh for a few weeks. No one could work out where he went for his lunch each day. Eventually, a fellow artiste followed him only to discover that his colleague was taking the train through to Glasgow to eat a sandwich in George Square - just outside the station - and then return to Edinburgh, the rival city in which time spent had to be minimised.

We all know the differences. Glasgow is the slightly run-down, former industrial powerhouse that is now inhabited by Labour-voting welfare recipients with some old-time trade unionists still employed in the few remaining factories. Edinburgh, on the other hand, is an architectural wonder, full of tourists, wealthy students from the Home Counties, finance industry executives and many, many professionals. Walk round the New Town and have a look at all those brass plates: solicitors, advocates, accountants, architects, planners, charities, consulates and even a few advertising agencies. Edinburgh, with its very high proportion of privately educated children is almost certainly Britain's most middle class city and appears to be a bastion of a financially self-reliant bourgeoisie. Especially compared to Glasgow. Except, of course, I don't think that this is true.

When we look behind those New Town brass plates we don't actually find quite as much "capitalistic" activity as you may think. A very large proportion of Edinburgh's professionals are funded, one-way or another, by the taxpayer. A lot of those "charities" are really arms of local or national government in another guise. There's an awful lot of work done by Edinburgh's professionals on behalf of the public sector, both directly and indirectly. This isn't particularly the result of parliamentary devolution - most of the public sector activities that I'm thinking of have always been based here in Edinburgh as a result of the existing administrative devolution. Democratic devolution is merely an added extra, albeit an expensive one.

Of course I believe that almost all of the things I've mentioned should be run and financed privately, if at all. Given that they are run by the state I do agree that they should have separate Scottish operations - we are a nation with its own legal and cultural differences from the rest of the UK. But we should recognise that much of Edinburgh's wealth is not earned in the free market - it comes from the pockets of taxpayers, including those who live in Glasgow.

So could it not be the case that Edinburgh is the welfare queen of Scottish cities rather than its west coast rival? If we abolished the ninety-odd per cent of unnecessary government spending, which city would be harder hit? Yes, Glasgow's vast army of "incapacitated" middle-aged males would have to find jobs rather quickly. But a low-tax Glasgow could well become a vibrant centre of successful entrepreneurship - it has been in the past. And without all that government money sloshing about, just what would Edinburgh's professionals get up to? I'm only asking.

1 comment:

David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

Neil Craig
I'm not sure about the difference between people, tho' historically Glasgow was the city of the tobacco lords, but I think that the fact that all of central Edinburgh is listed buildings is going to cause serious long term development problems for the city & so long as it is based there, the cost of government. This is already apparent in the Holyrood building.

22 November 2004, 22:16:26 GMT
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David Farrer
As Stuart indicates, Glaswegians are often very entrepreneurial. Parts of the city and quite a few inhabitants are doing rather well. The problems are in the large peripheral council estates that house many of the former industrial workers who, for whatever reason, haven't adapted to life in a service economy.

22 November 2004, 18:45:05 GMT
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As a privately-educated Edinburgher, who lived in Glasgow for 9 years, I whole-heartedly agree. 
Edinburgh singularly lacks the entrepreneurial spirit that you often find in Glaswegians. In an unrigged economic contest west-central Scotland would win every time.

22 November 2004, 18:28:17 GMT
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Interesting. While at a wedding in Edinburgh this year, a guy told me that the "west is the best." Being American and thus not having a dog in that hunt, I thought his sentiment was kind of endearing. I thought Glasgow was undergoing a boom of sorts. Am I wrong?

22 November 2004, 16:14:08 GMT